Tuesday, 26 April 2011

This Side of the Ditch

Last month it was all about NZ writers (here and here) - this time we're on my side of the ditch, catching up with some Aussie books I've read over the past couple of months.  Marg, from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader (among many others), has declared April 'Aussie Author Month', and this is a good opportunity to do my bit.  Also, it's about time I posted for Booklover Book Reviews' Aussie Author Challenge ;)  Here then are a few short summaries, with musical accompaniment (just because!).

The Book: Monkey Grip by Helen Garner
Where and When: Melbourne, Mid-1970s
What: Nora, a member of a group of bohemian dole bludgers, falls for the charismatic Javo, a rugged heroin addict.  Over a long year of heartache and hangovers, she battles with her misgivings about the relationship, balancing casual drugs and sex with her duties as a mother and her longing for the seductive addict in her bed.  The book of a generation - definitely not my generation though.  Good as it is, it says nothing to me about my life...
Soundtrack Song by The Smiths: This Charming Man

The Book: The Gift of Speed by Steven Carroll
Where and When: Melbourne, 1960-1
What: In the sequel to The Art of the Engine Driver, we return to the Melbourne suburbs to watch the teenaged Michael in his quest to become a fast bowler - and to understand how girls work.  The book concentrates on two other characters: factory owner Mr. Webster and Frank Worrell, captain of the touring West Indian cricket team...  In an absolutely wonderful book, Michael must overcome annoying physical niggles and his shyness (which one could describe as criminally vulgar, I suppose...) to make the most of his golden summer.
Soundtrack Song by The Smiths: The Boy with the Thorn in his Side

The Book: 1988 by Andrew McGahan
Where and When: Northern Territory, 1988...
What: As Australia gears up for its 200th (White) birthday, Gordon celebrates twenty-one fruitless years by heading to the Territory to work for six months on a remote weather station, hoping to kickstart his writing career.  Instead, he finds that when you're feeling down, the problem may not be where you are, but where you're at.  A fascinating Aussie road-trip story (with added crocodiles).
Soundtrack Song by The Smiths: How Soon is Now?

The Book: The Multiple Effects of Rainshadow by Thea Astley
Where and When: Palm Island, Brisbane, Townsville, 1930-1957
What: Another tale of madness in the tropics, Heart of Darkness with a Queensland setting.  Based on a true story, the boss of a small island goes mad, shooting his workers and blowing up his own house - but that's just the beginning...  Told in multiple sections, each with its own different narrative voice, the book explores the endemic racism of pre- and post-WWII Queensland.  Gripping, poignant, unusual and thought provoking, The Multiple Effects of Rainshadow explores the way history has a funny way of repeating itself.
Soundtrack Song by The Smiths: Stop Me if You Think You've Heard This One Before

The Book: The Spare Room by Helen Garner
Where and When: Melbourne, Recent times
What: A Melbourne grandmother prepares a room for the visit of her friend, a bohemian Sydney woman with cancer.  As she watches her friend throw her trust (and money) into the hands of charlatans, she begins to lose her ability to keep quiet and smile blankly at her friend's ever-more-delusional state of mind.  A short, but vibrant, novel, exploring how we cope when hope is all that's left, and what we do to cling onto that hope, even when it's time to let go.
Pessimistic Soundtrack Song by The Smiths: Girlfriend in a Coma
Optimistic Soundtrack Song by The Smiths: There is a Light that Never Goes Out

Plenty more to come for me in terms of Australian literature in the coming weeks.  I finally have the third part of Carroll's trilogy, the Miles Franklin winning The Time We Have Taken, plus Praise, the book to which 1988 is the prequel.  More happy reading to come :)  What Aussie books have you been reading, people?